KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: February 13, 2014

Today's headlines include news coverage of yesterday's update from the Obama administration regarding the number of people who have enrolled in private health insurance through the health law's online marketplaces.

Kaiser Health News: Report: Nearly 3.3 Million Americans Have Enrolled In Private Obamacare Plans
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz reports: “Nearly 3.3 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance plans since October through the online marketplaces created by the health law, with enrollment continuing to surge through January, an Obama administration report said Wednesday. But the number of young adults signing up continues to lag expectations, which could impact insurance premiums next year. Insurance industry officials have been closely watching the mix of customers to make sure they get enough healthy people to balance the cost of covering older Americans who generally require more medical care” (Galewitz, 2/12). Read the story

Kaiser Health News: Florida Moves To Manage Health Care For Foster Kids
Kaiser Health News staff writer Marissa Evans, working in collaboration with The Miami Herald, reports: “Chris and Alicia Johnson have 10 kids -- three biological, five adopted out of foster care and two foster children -- all under one roof on the outskirts of Orlando, Fla. While providing love, support and encouragement for their foster kids, they’ve sometimes run into roadblocks trying to get them health care, including needed mental health services, because few providers take Medicaid insurance. Another problem? Not being able to take foster children in different health care plans to the same doctors. Those difficulties are not unusual for the nation’s nearly 400,000 foster children, whose health care can be complicated by cycling from one placement to another, undiagnosed childhood trauma and a failure to receive preventive care, according to experts” (Evans, 2/13). Read the story and check out the related chart

The New York Times: 3.3 Million Enrolled On Health Marketplaces, Including More Young People, Government Says
The administration reported a modest uptick in the enrollment of young adults, a group avidly sought by insurers because they are usually healthier and need fewer costly medical services. In a new report on enrollment, the administration said that 1.9 million people had selected health plans in the federal marketplace from October through January, while 1.4 million chose plans in state-run insurance exchanges (Pear, 2/12). 

The New York Times: Over 1 Million Added To Rolls Of Health Plan
More than 1.1 million people signed up for health insurance through federal and state marketplaces in January, according to the government, and the number of young people enrolling increased faster than that of any other group. The results were hailed by Obama administration officials, who expressed increased optimism that they had overcome their initial stumbles and erased many doubts about the viability of the health care law (Shear and Abelson, 2/12). 

USA Today: More Than 1M Signed Up For Health Coverage In January
Sebelius called the statistics "very, very encouraging news. We're seeing a healthy growth in enrollment." Young people between the ages of 18 and 34, who are considered essential to the long-term financial health of the insurance market, went from 24% of enrollees between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 to 27% in January, according to the new records. … The Obama administration isn't concerned about the number of young people who have signed up for insurance, said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The number of young insurance customers is "on track" with expectations, she said (Kennedy, 2/12). 

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare Enrollment Continues To Increase
The national total was still short of the administration’s goal of 4.4 million enrolled by the end of January. It remains unclear how many people who have selected a health plan have actually paid and how many did not have insurance previously. But the latest report provides new evidence that the marketplaces are gaining traction after a disastrous launch last fall (Levey, 2/12). 

The Washington Post: Health Insurance Enrollment On Target In January
Still, the lingering imprint of those early problems remains visible in the new report. Overall, the 3.3 million people who have signed up for coverage are about 1 million fewer than federal officials had anticipated by the end of January. That difference dovetails with a revised prediction last week by congressional budget analysts — that 6 million Americans, instead of 7 million, are likely to get insurance through the marketplaces by the time this year’s sign-up period ends March 31 (Goldstein, 2/12). 

Politico: More Than 3 Million Signed Up Through Obamacare Exchanges, Officials Say
Key data is still missing. The numbers don’t show how many of the sign-ups on the state and federal exchanges have actually paid their premiums. Nor do officials know how many were previously uninsured (Cheney and Millman, 2/12).

NPR: After January Surge, More Than 3 Million Have Enrolled In Obamacare
January was a miserable month for weather, but the wintry blasts in much of the country weren't enough to stop people from shopping for health insurance. More than 1.1 million people signed up for coverage through state and federal health exchanges in January, according to a just-released report, bringing the total to just shy of 3.3 million people (Rovner, 2/12). 

The Wall Street Journal: Health Exchanges Hit 3.3 Million Enrollees Through January
But Republican lawmakers said there was no reason for the Obama administration to cheer, given the continuing troubles with the 2010 federal health-care law. They noted independent reports indicating that many of the people using the exchanges already had been buying insurance on their own (Radnofsky, 2/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Most States Lag In Health Insurance Sign-Ups
Most states are still lagging when it comes to sign-ups under President Barack Obama’s health care law, but an Associated Press analysis of numbers reported Wednesday finds a dozen high-achievers getting ahead of the game. Huge disparities are emerging in how well states are living up to federal enrollment targets, and that will help determine if the White House reaches its unofficial goal of having 7 million signed up by the end of March, six weeks away (2/12). 

Politico: Obamacare Finally Clears The Tower
There are still reasons to be skeptical of the numbers, and health care experts warn that the administration still has a lot of work to do by the end of March — when enrollment ends for this year — to get the right mix of customers so there are enough healthy people to pay for the sicker ones. But the new report is good enough that it might reset Washington’s expectations: maybe Obamacare isn’t going to be a train wreck after all. Maybe it’ll be more like one of those Metro trains that runs kind of slowly, and sometimes stops in the middle of the tracks for no apparent reason, but eventually gets you where you need to go (Nather, 2/12). 

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: The Uninsured Rate Is At A Five-Year Low. Is Obamacare The Reason? 
Gallup's newest poll shows another decline in the uninsured rate, in a survey taken in late January and early February. It found that 16 percent of American adults reported lacking insurance coverage, the lowest number Gallup has recorded since 2009 (Kliff, 2/12). 

The Wall Street Journal: For Many, Few Health-Plan Choices, High Premiums on Online Exchanges
Hundreds of thousands of Americans in poorer counties have few choices of health insurers and face high premiums through the online exchanges created by the health-care law, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal of offerings in 36 states. Consumers in 515 counties, spread across 15 states, have only one insurer selling coverage through the online marketplaces, the Journal found. In more than 80% of those counties, the sole insurer is a local Blue Cross & Blue Shield plan (Martin and Weaver, 2/12). 

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate Clears Debt Limit Measure For Obama
The president is now clear to sign the bill, which allows the government to borrow all the money it needs to pay bills such as Social Security benefits, federal salaries, and payments to Medicare and Medicaid providers. Failure to pass it would have likely sent the stock market — which dipped modestly as the voting dragged on — into a tailspin (2/12). 

The Wall Street Journal: Boehner Strategy Signals A Shift For Republicans
Conservative and tea-party groups outside Congress were incensed by the move, orchestrated by Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. But GOP lawmakers defended the strategy, which enabled Mr. Labrador and 198 other Republicans to oppose the debt-ceiling bill—it passed with the votes of Mr. Boehner, 27 other Republicans and 193 Democrats—and clear the way for them to try to redirect attention to the president's health-care law (Peterson and Hook, 2/12). 

The Washington Post: Senate Votes To Restore Benefits To Veterans
Senators voted 95 to 3 Wednesday to restore military retiree benefits cut last year as part of a compromise budget deal, adopting a House bill that covers the move by extending reductions to Medicare (Lowrey, 2/12). 

The New York Times: Conservative Group Enters Michigan Fray On Side Of Tea Party
The group, Americans for Prosperity, will spend about $230,000 on advertisements thanking Representative Justin Amash for fighting against President Obama’s signature health care law, officials there said — a shot at establishment donors who are rallying behind his challenger, Brian Ellis (Confessore, 2/12). 

NPR: Judge Dismisses Assisted Suicide Case Against Pennsylvania Nurse
A Pennsylvania county judge has thrown out an assisted suicide case against a 58-year-old nurse named Barbara Mancini, who was accused of homicide last year for allegedly handing her 93-year-old father a bottle of morphine. The decision is the latest in a series of recent developments signaling a reluctance of courts and state legislatures to criminalize medical care that may hasten death (Knox, 2/12). 

Los Angeles Times: Animosity Between Head Of AIDS Group, L.A. County Supervisor Emerges 
Long-simmering animosity between two Los Angeles political figures reached new heights this week when their bad blood surfaced in a footnote attached to a federal judge's ruling. The footnote revealed a series of vitriolic remarks made by AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein about Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky (Sewell, 2/12). 

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